We asked an expert the dos and don'ts when it comes to munching sushi
Time Out Bahrain staff
With several new Japanese restaurants on the island we spoke to expert Ando Takashi, about etiquette and how to dine when eating Japanese.
Is there an order diners should follow to eat sushi? Sushi is one of Japan’s most popular delicacies both at home in Japan and abroad. The word sushi describes the special vinegar rice used. As such the variations to be made from simple ingredients are numerous and continue to see the culinary tradition expand into new realms as new Sushi combinations are created.
There are also many types of ways of serving sushi, from the most popular ‘nigiri’ form, which is moulded in the hand to create a bite- size portion and traditionally accompanied with a raw fish topping, as well as the ‘maki’ form, which is a rolled form and also extremely popular, especially in combinations of vegetables such as cucumber and pickled radish. There is also ‘hakozushi’, which comes in a box , where the sushi rice covers the entire bottom of the box and various toppings are added.
While there is no set order to eat sushi there are a couple of tips to help ensure your dining experience can be optimal.
Firstly, ask the chef what he recommends. Japanese cuisine is seasonal, and the chef will be able to recommend what kind of fish topped sushi is currently at its seasonal freshest and tastiest prime.
Secondly, to enjoy the inherent flavours of each sushi piece it is always good to eat a bit of the pink pickled ginger known as ‘gari’ in between different mouthfuls. Gari acts as a cleanser for the palate, so you are able to enjoy the unique flavours of each individual piece and element at its flavoursome zenith.
Thirdly, when eating nigiri sushi, one should always turn the fish topped piece upside down when dipping it in soy sauce, so that only the tip of the fish is dipped and not the rice. Soy sauce acts as a salt seasoning, so only a little bit of it should be used. In good Japanese sushi restaurants, wasabi will already be included in the sushi piece under the topping. If you don’t like wasabi just tell the chef not to include it. In the Gulf however, nigiri sushi tends not to have the wasabi included, so the next best option is to mix it with your soy sauce to the strength that you like.
Every sushi dining experience should conclude with green tea. This tea is known as ‘agari’ and indicates to the sushi chef that you have also finished ordering.
Is sushi traditionally eaten with chopsticks? If so, what should we be mindful of when using chopsticks? Sushi is one of the few very Japanese cuisines where it is perfectly acceptable to eat with chopsticks or the hand. Naturally, as with knives and forks, there is a host of etiquette points to consider when using chopsticks, but the only major one to consider when eating sushi is not to use your chopsticks to take directly from what another person is holding with their chopsticks, as this action relates to a funeral ceremony.
How are soups and noodles appropriately consumed? Traditional soups and wet noodle dishes are eaten with chopsticks. Pieces are picked up from the soup and eaten with chopsticks, and then it is perfectly acceptable to raise the bowl and drink the soup.
Is there any dinner table etiquette people should be mindful of? There is a plethora of dinner-table etiquette within Japanese culture. One that is always good to know and sure to impress is to clasp ones hand together as if praying and saying ‘itadakimasu’ before the meal.
In the west it is common for the host to wish everyone ‘bon appetit’ so that all may commence dining. In Japan however this custom is reversed and it is for each and every guest to announce that they will start eating by saying itadakimasu.
The phrase refers to offering gratitude and thanks for all who have helped make the dish possible – from host, to chef, to farmer or fisherman, to the life of the vegetable or animal that is the food itself. Giving thanks by saying itadakimasu is also said before meals, even when eating alone or by oneself!
Once the meal is finished simply clasp one’s hands together again and say ‘gochis sama deshita’ meaning thank you for the meal.
Where can we learn more? Many restaurants have staff who are expertly knowledgeable about Japanese cuisine and dining etiquette and will be more than happy to introduce all guests to the world of Japanese culinary and dining tradition.
New Japanese restaurants to try
Imari The blue and white dining emporium at The Domain (16 000 222).
Kujo The island’s latest addition at Durrat Al Bahrain (77 000 997).
Coming soon, Ruka Which will be the latest addition to the Ramee Grand Hotel & Spa in Seef (17 111 9990).